After spending a wonderful weekend at the coast (maybe more on that later), I figured I may as well celebrate coming home. So that’s exactly what I did; my wife and I enjoyed the night in a cozy single bed rent-a-room down in Winston-Salem. I took full advantage of my time there and let loose lots of loud moaning. And we prayed together.

In the end, I don’t really recommend this particular rental for your next getaway. The owners charge by the hour, and the prices are exhorbitant. In retrospect, I should have known this going in - because I used to work there. Where I spent the night was the Forsyth Medical Center Emergency Department.

The story began a year ago, when I had a tummy ache. I took some gripe water and attempted to move on - that always worked in the past. Only this time it didn’t seem to help. In fact, the bloating and resultant pain only got worse over time. I sat up in bed and attempted to sleep. I ended up in cold sweats, hugging the porcelain goddess, and writhing on the ground. I eventually woke my wife and asked her to accompany me to the emergency room. This particular night, the advertised wait time was short in Clemmons, so that’s where we went. The pain seemed to be in the center of my chest, and I had no idea what was going on so I assumed it was really bad heartburn. The staff assumed a heart attack. After being wired up like the Terminal Man, the staff determined that my heart was alright and then moved on to assuming heartburn or something similar. I was given medicine in the form of pills and liquids, and something called a GI coctail. I think they were all just hospital-grade mixes of the antacids and pain relievers I had already taken. But nothing worked. I was eventually given morphine, which knocked the edge off but certainly didn’t fix the issue. After a boatload of other tests, the staff’s diagnosis guess was that of esophageal spasm. I was then ejected with instructions to take Prilosec and watch what I ate.

And then came the bill. We paid it off in installments over roughly a year. Holy bat baloney - that was a big bill..

Well, I endured the same thing two more times after that - by myself, trying to be a tough guy … Hours of pain reaching well into the wee hours … I was determined to not pay the hospital again on the grounds that they charged me an enormous amount of money without actually helping. And they provide no money-back-guarantee of course.

After having blood work done for another unrelated issue, my liver enzymes were noted to be higher than they should be - not scary high, but enough to warrant another blood draw. When those results showed the enzyme levels going up a bit instead of back down, I was sent to the hospital to get an ultrasound of my liver. It was “Just a precaution.” A cyst was found in my liver, and documented but discounted as benign. But apparenty my gall bladder looked like a bag of marbles. So I now also have gall stones. Yay me! The technician probably shouldn’t have, but showed me how when I shifted from sitting to lying on my side, those marbles shifted around like rolling stones. (See what I did there?) From then on, everybody was surprised to find that I had never had pain in my upper right quadrant where my gall bladder was located. I was told that this was eventually going to be a problem for me, and that the gall bladder would have to come out.

Last night’s episode, the fourth one in a year, started on my way home from the beach - about an hour from home. We got home, unloaded the vehicle and tried to get settled in. All the while, I felt more pressure and more pain. No meds would make a difference. Just like before, pain in the center of my chest, maybe a little low. I could breathe fine, but the pain was unusually intense and began to feel sharper. Based on earlier input from one of our close friends (a nurse), I tried to press into the upper right quadrant of my abdomen, just under my rib cage. And THAT, ladies and gentleman, resulted in a horrible retching noise and an even worse taste in my mouth. I now understood that most likely, my problem all along had been gall stones. This time the pain was quite a bit more than before, and I didn’t feel that I could tough it out. So off we went to the emergency room, where I screamed and hollered until, I assume, I passed the stone. We were able to convey new information to the staff relating to my having gall stones, and their ultrasound confirmed that to be the most likely cause of my pain. After two doses of whatever the staff considered to be the good stuff and a longish period of my being unable to string two words together coherently, I was once again dismissed with a crappy prescription for pain meds and instructions to call the surgeon for scheduling the removal of the bag-o-marbles … and a doctor’s note to lay out of work for the next day, which was already in progress by the time we got back home.

I have never in my life felt this much pain. I was convinced I was going to bear witness to an arthropod popping out of my chest just before my death. I mean, I’ve seen the movies - and that much pain and the ensuing delirium made anything seem possible. But my wife had gall stones during pregnancy, and described the pain as much worse than actually giving birth. Which makes me feel much better about myself, but still seems a bit suspect. I understand that the common bile duct is not the same thing as a birth canal, but when contrasting the size of a mere gall stone with the bowling-ball-plus-extras that is a human child, the possibility that stones hurt more just seems wrong. I am fairly certain that having gone through this and knowing how small these stones are, if I were to ever be told that I was pregnant my response would be along the lines of: Oh, so I have less than 9 months to live … I am astounded by the amount of pain that women must go through during child birth.

Thinking back to last night, though, perhaps the experience wasn’t all that bad. After all, I did have my own tv and a neat remote which could also be used for, um, room service. So there’s that